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2021 UROP Projects Announced

This year the Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) College Program is funding eight Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) projects. Established in 1992 to provide talented undergraduate students with hands-on research experience, it has funded more than 200 projects.

Each UROP student will gain first-hand knowledge regarding the whole research process from design, implementation, analysis and conclusion. The hope is for students to present at relevant conferences and publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

To support these advanced coastal studies, projects receive funding up to $3,000. UROP applications are accepted each fall for projects starting the following March. Full-time undergraduate students at all Louisiana colleges and universities are eligible.

Photo: Mason BaileyMason Bailey, Louisiana State University (LSU)
Advisor: Maria Teresa Gutierrez-Wing
Cryopreservation to Secure Hatcheries Macroalgal Feeds

In hatcheries, larval finfish and shellfish require high-quality microalgae for food before they can move on to larger formula feeds or zooplankton. Microalgae can represent a large part of a hatchery budget and maintaining live algal cultures during the off-season or periods of cleaning is costly. On this project, Bailey will investigate the conditions that lead to successful recovery of microalgal strains after cryopreservation. The results could allow hatcheries to freeze and successfully restart their own microalgae cultures, saving the industry money.

Photo: Olivia BarfieldOlivia Barfield, Tulane University (TU)
Advisor: Sunshine Van Bael
Inoculation of Baldcypress with Salt-tolerant Endophytes

Baldcypress is a key species for coastal restoration. Endophytes – microscopic fungi and bacteria that live entirely within the tissues of their host plants – can substantially improve a host’s ability to withstand stressors, such as increased salinity and temperature variation. Barfield seeks to better understand the longevity of 46 salt-tolerant bacteria and fungi in the baldcypress roots and learn how the symbionts influence seeding growth. Results could be used to increase the success and resilience of bald cypress planting projects in coastal restoration.

Photo: Mary BarrowMary Barrow, TU
Advisor: Emily Farrer
Resilience of Coastal Marsh Microbial Communities to Saltwater Intrusion

Louisiana’s coastal marshes provide essential services, such as buffering storm surge and providing nursery habitat for commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as having a cultural importance. Understanding whether soil microbial communities – critical for marsh health – are resistant and resilient to saltwater pulses is important in understanding how microbially driven functions in coastal marshes could shift with increasing saltwater intrusion. On this project, Barrow will determine how coastal marsh soil microbial communities respond to salinity pulses from factors such as sea level rise and storm surge.

Photo: Ben WalkerPhoto: Caleb GryderPhoto: Mary CondeMary Conde, LSU
Caleb Gryder, LSU
Ben Walker, LSU
Advisor: Terrence Tiersch
Custom Design, Fabrication and Testing of Environmental Data Systems for Use in Oyster Aquaculture

Oyster aquaculture plays a growing role in Louisiana’s seafood production. One area of concern is wave action, which can directly influence the feeding, growth and health of oysters held in systems such as long-line culture baskets. In this project, students will develop a technology-based solution to standardize measurements of environmental factors and how these factors affect off-bottom cultured oysters. Such information could be used to adjust growth conditions to maximize production in the oyster aquaculture industry.

Photo: Jacob HagenJacob Hagen, Nicholls State University
Advisor: Enmin Zou
Does Bursicon Control Exoskeletal Mineralization in the Post-Ecdysial Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus?

Crustaceans shed their exoskeleton numerous times during their lives through the process of ecdysis, commonly known as molting. Ecdysis allows the crustacean to grow and develop, but which hormone regulates exoskeletal hardening remains unknown. Hagen will examine the role of bursicon in post-ecdysial calcification of the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, exoskeleton. Findings from this project could be applied to the soft-shell crab industry, where slowing the shell-hardening process is desirable. This research also would advance the scientific understanding of post-ecdysial exoskeleton mineralization.

Photo: Natalia MatossianNatalia Matossian, TU
Advisor: Torbjorn Tornqvist
Quantifying Carbon Burial Rates as a Critical Ecosystem Service in the Mississippi Delta

Coastal and deltaic environments have the potential to offer a major ecosystem service in carbon burial, commonly referred to a blue carbon. This storage has potentially significant implications for the global carbon cycle. Matossian will determine whether significant differences exist in the organic carbon burial rates between terrestrial (delta plain) and marine environments. The research could advise which Louisiana ecosystems are most likely to bury organic carbon most rapidly.

Photo: Vivian MireVivian Mire, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Advisor: Beth Stauffer
Effects of Estuarine Freshening on Predator-Prey Interactions in Plankton Food Webs

Louisiana’s coastal waters are home to several economically and ecologically important fisheries, including oysters, shrimp, menhaden and blue crabs. Each fishery is directly or indirectly dependent on plankton at the base of the food web. Increasing seasonal river floods and intense, wet hurricanes result in the freshening of coastal waters, impacting microbial plankton production and community structure, and disrupting the food web. Mire hopes to provide a better understanding of how less salty estuaries impact planktonic food webs.

Photo: Genesis MizeGenesis Mize, LSU
Advisor: Megan La Peyre
Hypoxia Tolerance of Diploid and Triploid Native Louisiana Populations

Improving the selection criteria for broodstock of diploid and triploid oysters is important for coastal restoration and aquaculture. To accomplish this, Mize will compare the survival and physiological response of two oyster stocks derived from three different Louisiana estuaries, and compare their diploid and triploid offspring in laboratory-controlled hypoxia experiments. Hypoxia-resilient diploid oysters, which have two sets of chromosomes, could aid restoration efforts. Hypoxia-resilient triploid oysters, which have three sets of chromosomes, could be useful in oyster farming.